Mallacoota has a proud tradition of abalone harvesting, which not even devastating fires will stop.

Story Ricky French

By the early 1960s young spearfishermen from Sydney had started to drift down the south coast of NSW in search of a curious mollusc then known as mutton-fish, to supply the burgeoning Chinese restaurant market. Sensing an opportunity, an enterprising businessman named Cecil Chen gathered a team of divers and set up camp on the Mallacoota foreshore, where vast beds of what we now call abalone had been discovered in the cold waters just offshore. Mallacoota became the centre of an underwater goldrush.

There was money to be made. Divers were pocketing up to £200 a week, with bidding wars for the lucrative molluscs erupting on the beach. It wasn’t unusual for divers to bring in half a tonne of meat a day, and the sudden wealth transformed the once sleepy village into a party town. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #134

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2021